UC Berkeley COVID-19 cases on the rise as classes wind down

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Update 4/26: This story has been updated to include additional information from University Health Services spokesperson Tami Cate and ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President James Weichert.

As classes wind down for the spring semester, the UC Berkeley campus community is once again experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases.

The University Health Services, or UHS, COVID-19 Dashboard reported more than 200 positive COVID-19 cases last week, an increase from the 145 cases reported in the prior week. 

“Nationally there is a slight rise in cases from a new subvariant,” said Tami Cate, the University Health Services, or UHS, spokesperson, in an email. “Currently these cases have not shown to come along with a corresponding increase in severe disease, hospitalizations or deaths.”

Cate added that campus’s overall positivity rate has increased because UHS is testing more people with symptoms without increasing testing overall. She cited the increased use of at-home rapid antigen tests and high vaccination rates as reasons for why fewer people are getting surveillance tests.

In a campuswide Response & Recovery email sent April 22, campus also announced it will close its Recreational Sports Facility surveillance testing services May 6. After the site closes, students will still have access to clinical and close contact testing, as well as “limited surveillance testing” at the Tang Center throughout the summer, the email reads. 

ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President James Weichert said the rise in cases is “not too surprising” amid campus’s decision to not require regular COVID-19 surveillance tests for students this year, lift its mask mandate in March and, now, essentially scrap its testing infrastructure. 

“Closing down the RSF testing site the week before finals is poorly planned and poorly timed,” Weichert said. “It wouldn’t require a relatively big increase in resources just to extend it a week or two.”

Weichert added he is concerned about the lack of clear articulation from campus about its overall testing strategy moving forward. 

Over the past two years, Weichert said he has found that surveillance testing at the RSF is extremely important for students, as it is, to his knowledge, the only testing method that does not come with any “hidden fee.”

“That’s really concerning,” Weichert said. “(It) is a big barrier to students, and I know it has probably prevented a lot of students from seeking the care and the tests that they need.”

For students with Berkeley SHIP, the campus student health insurance plan, clinical testing and copay fees are fully covered, according to the UHS website. Clinical testing will cost students on other health insurance plans anywhere from $60 to $150 depending on the type of test used, as each health insurance company covers COVID-19 tests differently.

Cate said in the email that the decision to close the RSF testing site on May 6 was made over a month ago in accordance with recommendations from campus’s Public Health Committee.

“Multiple factors … went into that decision including the May 6 date in order to accommodate academic needs for that space for finals,” Cate said in the email. “Those who are symptomatic should get tested. Finding cases is a good thing in that it can help reduce the spread, especially to our vulnerable populations.”

Students can also purchase rapid antigen tests from the UHS Pharmacy as needed, the campuswide email reads. 

Check back for updates. 

Iris Kwok is a deputy news editor. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @iriskkwok.